Coming into the spotlight with its fair-share of hype due to films rarely being produced outside of the Korean studio system, Jin-Won Kim’s The Butcher has been hailed as “The Blair Witch Project meets Hostel” by many. Yeah, talk about shooting a film in the foot before anyone ever gets the chance to see it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m openly supportive of The Blair Witch Project and think Hostel is Eli Roth’s only watchable work, but these two films have been used to hype a lot of garbage flicks over the years. So color me surprised when I found myself liking The Butcher; liking it a lot actually. Maybe it’s that films like this just aren’t expected to come out of Korea, or maybe it just appeased that little masochistic part that hides deep down inside of me, but The Butcher is a harrowing, grueling experience that turns the purpose of a slaughterhouse for pigs completely on its head and provides the hilariously dubbed “Torture Porn” genre its first bonafide good film.
The Butcher begins by throwing you abruptly into the middle of your worst nightmare; a hellish scene plucked straight from your biggest fears. Four unsuspecting people have been abducted and thrust into a situation that equals certain death. In a dilapidated slaughterhouse, two men are primed and ready to make some snuff videos, and the four victims know full well what’s in store for them as the two entrepreneurs discuss what’s in store for them freely. Soon enough, two of the victims are taken away and the two that are left behind are subjected to hearing their last moments, complete with a blaring chainsaw and screams of agony. The two directors return with a trash can full of body parts, but argue that these tactics are getting old and they need to do something fresh and interesting to the two remaining victims; unspeakable acts that no one should have to be forced to endure. Luckily their pig-faced accomplice “The Butcher” has no qualms about performing them.
The Butcher was an absolute surprise to me, as I’ve grown utterly exhausted with the revolting style of horror flicks that I assumed this fell under. But while it definitely still falls under that category, The Butcher excels in one area where most others fail to deliver: dread and tension. Now I fully understand this film won’t be for everyone, and I can even see some that are so annoyed with “shock horror” not even giving it a chance, but if you allow yourself to become absorbed in the proceedings (and it takes a bit, as while it clocks in at only 75 minutes, the first 20 or so will have you rolling your eyes expecting this to amount to nothing more than the usual trash), there’s little denying that director Jin-Won Kim has managed to pack a startling level of terror and panic within the confines of this nasty little film.
The one large reason that I think The Butcher works so well is because it makes no pretenses about what it is: this is shock for shock’s sake, and it’s only goal is to make the viewer feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible. Unlike the Saw or Hostel films, that attempt to cover up what they really are by flashy directing and twisting (and usually messy) plotlines, or a film like Salo which would like to fool you into thinking it’s an art flick, The Butcher’s only reason for existence is to make you feel like you’ve been beaten by a sledgehammer when all is said and done. In that sense, it borrows far more from Japanese AV sickies like the Guinea Pig series (particularly Flower of Flesh and Blood) and the films of Daisuke Yamanouchi than it does any film out of the US or the recent crop of extreme French fare. The Butcher is raw, distressing filmmaking at its most stifling.
The other reason The Butcher works where others fail is the choice by Kim to have the film told not only through the lens of the snuff cameramen, but also a POV camera that is placed right on the top of the victim’s head. By using this device, you’ll see things as the victim sees: every hammer blow that’s about to rain down, each rev of a chainsaw as it gets closer to an extremity, and the trapped hysteria as chances to escape reveal themselves while a pig-faced maniac could be lurking around any corner. The technique makes you feel as if you’re just as battered, beaten and disoriented as the victim and that definitely goes a long way in drawing you into the character’s desperate situation. Don’t be fooled into thinking The Butcher is full of shaky cam frustration a la Blair Witch though; no, the comparison to that film is only in context really, as the film has a digital look about it more akin to the aforementioned Guinea Pig series. So at least in that area, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
I can’t sell this movie to everyone; heck, I’m sure some that I do get to watch it will take two steps back from me and start to reevaluate whether my taste in film can still be trusted. But if this at all sounds remotely like something you’d like or would like to experience, then bump The Butcher to the top of your “to watch” list. You may just walk away from it all just as surprised as I was in regards to how effectively Jin-Won Kim has done what he set out to do. While it’s certainly not a film to sit back and relax with, The Butcher is a white-knuckle decent into the darkest, most brutal corners of human nature that will truly test the limits of your sensibilities. Are you up for the butcher’s challenge?
The Butcher gets its stateside release courtesy of Palisades Tartan (on the Asia Extreme label, naturally), and it’s a pretty nice package overall. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks solid. Shot on digital, it doesn’t look like film yet it doesn’t look amateur either. There’s tons of camera movement going on, and I’m happy to report I didn’t see any instances of artifacts or macroblocking. The grimy look of the movie is well represented, and the disc is also flagged for progressive scan, which gives everything a nice, sharp look. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo only, which is fine considering the material of the film; a 5.1 surround track would have been excessive and tossed all aspirations for realism out the window. Extras include an alternate ending, which is basically an extra two minutes that were cut from the final cut, and shows that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a big influence on pig-boy. Some behind the scenes photos, storyboard sketches, and the film’s trailer round out the extras, along with an insert with some of the film’s artwork.
Please feel free to discuss "The Butcher" here, in our forums!